7 out of 10
Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa / Black Panther
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Black Panther Review:
Shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa finds himself taking over his father’s throne in the African kingdom of Wakanda. However, there are many challenges he must now face. T’Challa must maintain the centuries-old secrecy of his people. While the world believes they are a poor third world nation, in reality they are the most technologically-advanced society on Earth thanks to an ancient meteorite containing “vibranium.” The rare metal is the source of all of their advancements in energy, technology, medicine, and more. While T’Challa must deal with external threats, he must also face internal threats as his right to the throne and the powers of the Black Panther are challenged by a rival Wakandan leader.
Fortunately, T’Challa is not alone in dealing with the burdens of being king. Powerful Wakandan women support him. They include his mother Queen Ramonda, his sister and technology developer Shuri, his bodyguard Okoye, and an army of female warriors. But his heart belongs to Nakia, a Wakandan spy who is the eyes and ears of her people in the outer world. Wakanda’s isolationism doesn’t sit well with her since they have the ability to help the world, a fact that weighs heavily on T’Challa’s conscience as well.
Despite T’Challa’s limited time in power, it doesn’t take long for him to have the face the biggest threat Wakanda has ever encountered, and it’s a secret from the past that may tear them apart from within.
Black Panther is rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.
Marvel Studios has yet again managed to blend together familiar elements into something that feels new with Black Panther. As T’Challa pursues Ulysses Klaue around the world while using amazing gadgets, it feels a lot like a James Bond movie. But then as the story goes back and forth to Wakanda, it feels a bit like Star Wars with the political intrigue, spaceships, and exotic tribes. As the story shows T’Challa as a king in the middle of a power struggle in an African setting, it feels a little like The Lion King. The end result is a film that is unlike any other Marvel movie.
Black Panther will deserve an Academy Award nomination for its production design. Imagine an African nation thousands of years old and in control of alien technology. What do their buildings look like? What do the people’s clothes look like? What do their weapons and vehicles look like? The production designers had to figure all of that out and the final product is an impressive blend of African culture and futuristic technology and architecture. The music is also an interesting blend of African sounds, modern hip-hop, and an orchestral score. Ludwig Göransson mixes the different styles together seamlessly. While it never stands out too much, I kept finding myself noting how well written it was.
While T’Challa is the star of the film, it’s the supporting cast that really shines. Lupita Nyong’o is fantastic as Nakia. She’s a spy on a mission to save the downtrodden, oppressed, and defenseless of the world. She also acts as the conscience of T’Challa. The two have a relationship that adds a nice romance to the story. Also noteworthy is Danai Gurira as Okoye. While she has always been great in The Walking Dead as Michonne, she’s even better here. She’s tough, devoted, and no-nonsense. She’s like a big sister to T’Challa and the two have a great dynamic between them. But Letitia Wright is his little sister as Shuri. She provides most of the comic relief in the film as his brilliant and sassy little sister. Shuri is additionally unique for a couple of other reasons. First of all, she’s the sister of a Marvel superhero and that’s not a relationship we’ve seen often before (except between Thor and Hela as well as Johnny and Sue Storm). Second, she’s possibly smarter than Tony Stark. We don’t always see academically-brilliant women in Marvel movies (other than, again, Sue Storm), so she’s a fresh addition to the MCU. I also have to mention Andy Serkis as the villain Ulysses Klaue. He’s absolutely insane. How many other Marvel villains have their own mix tapes? I loved every minute he was on the screen. And seeing him reunited with Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross brought a smile to my face.
If you get a chance to see Black Panther in IMAX 3D, do so. It’s worth the additional expense. The Wakandan ships fly out of the screen. In the final battle, Black Panther and Killmonger fly out of the screen and you feel like you’re along for the ride. I was additionally happy that the screen actually widened to the full IMAX dimensions. And it didn’t just happen in the action scenes. A few of the quieter scenes also went large and ultimately made you feel like you were in the middle of the intimate conversations between father and son.
I took my two sons to the screening of Black Panther. On the drive home, we talked about why countries choose isolationism. We talked about the pros and cons of such strategies. We spoke about the isolationism of the U.S. before WWII and it’s role on the global stage afterwards. We also spoke about why black kids seeing a black superhero was important to them. And on the way out of the theater, my white kids were chatting with black adults about their theories on where the next Infinity Stone was and if we may have seen it in Black Panther. It was just a great positive experience for us all and the kind of experience you don’t always have at the movies.
Finally, take note that there are two bonus scenes in the end credits. You’ll want to stay to the very end.
What Didn’t Work:
As much as I enjoyed Black Panther, I do feel it is being overhyped possibly to its detriment. I heard so many great things about the film in advance that it got my hopes up. But after seeing it, I felt the story was just okay. It wasn’t bad by any means, but I didn’t think it was great either. I’d rate it lower among the Marvel movies.
First off, I feel Chadwick Boseman was a bit flat as T’Challa. I know he’s supposed to be stoic, especially after the death of his father, but he really comes across as emotionless and dull. At one point there is a fun joke between T’Challa and his sister Shuri as she embarrasses him. I thought, “Ah! Finally he’s warming up!” But the moment is quickly lost and we didn’t really see the humorous side of T’Challa again. I just felt like T’Challa needed more personality.
I also felt Michael B. Jordan was stiff as Erik Killmonger. He does a fantastic job with the action and his motivations for fighting Black Panther are some of the most sympathetic of any Marvel villain. His origin story is heartbreaking. But some of his dialogue was hokey and his delivery was weak. It’s definitely a mixed bag.
The action scenes were just okay as well. There are some nice hand-to-hand combat moments, but I think you could argue that the Daredevil TV series had better fights. There’s a decent car chase, but it lacks standout moments as well. Matters aren’t helped in the big finale where Black Panther jumps and flies around and looks very CG. Overall, it’s not bad, but it’s not particularly memorable either.
The Bottom Line:
Is Black Panther worth checking out? Yes. Is it enjoyable? Absolutely. Is it the best Marvel movie? No, but I still recommend making the trip to the theater and checking it out.